Friday: About a week ago I’d noticed some robins flying in and out of a particular oak tree in our yard; I was curious but didn’t think they were doing anything of a permanent nature in there and I quickly forgot about it. But I looked out the kitchen window this morning and saw a robin repeatedly going into that area again. Grabbing the binoculars, I quickly located her sitting on her nest and felt a tingle of excitement go up my spine.
As I wrote last time, I treasure any opportunity to see a bird on a nest because it’s such an intimate look into their fascinating lives. And this is the very first time I’ve ever found a nesting bird in my own yard! Every year I get to see parent birds feeding their adorable fledglings, but this is just too awesome for words.
The nest is about 35 feet from the house and 10 feet above the ground. It’s situated so far out on a branch that I’m surprised there’s enough support for it. It’s pretty well hidden by the surrounding leaves, but I found a vantage spot in the yard where I can see it better. Hoping to document this special find, I took my camera out and stationed myself behind a big tree about 40 feet away.
In this picture you can see her beak is full of something… maybe mulch or dirt for adding to the nest. You can also see a bare spot on her upper breast. It seems pretty high for a brood patch, but I think that’s what it must be. (A brood patch is a bare area where the bird’s body heat can be transferred to the incubating eggs easier.) Update: An experienced birder tells me that’s probably just muddy feathers from gathering nesting materials.
I don’t think any eggs have hatched yet because I don’t hear any babies chirping when she comes back to the nest. I guess I don’t even know for sure that she’s laid any eggs yet. She flies off the nest about every couple minutes and pecks in the yard, then goes back and settles down again. I wonder if she’s just getting food for herself? In some species the parents take turns on the nest so each can go eat and rest, but in others the male will bring food to the female as she remains on the nest. Hmm, wait here a sec while I go read about this in Birds of North America….
Ok, I’m back. It turns out that in robins, the male does not bring food to the female on the nest. She takes brief breaks during the day to feed herself. Aha, that explains it. And this is possibly her second brood of the season because this nest is located in a deciduous tree; BNA says the first nest is usually in an evergreen tree. Interesting. And we’ve seen a recently-fledged robin being fed in the yard lately, so perhaps this is the same parent, starting her second family of the summer.
The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks. After they hatch, the babies remain in the nest for 2 more weeks. Then they leave the nest (fledge), but are still unable to fly well for 10-14 more days. That’s going to be the time I worry most, because of this:
This is the cat I wrote about last year, which has been back stalking birds near our feeders again. Birds that can’t fly are going to be easy prey for this experienced hunter. You’ll notice a white tag hanging on the cat’s collar; I wrote a note to the owners that said: “Your cat is killing our birds. Next time I’m taking him to Animal Control.” I feel a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West for that (“I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog too!”). But I figured I’d give them one more chance to be responsible and keep the cat indoors.
Anyway, back to the robin. I went out to run some errands and got caught in a thunderstorm as I was heading back toward home. My first thought as I entered my driveway was for the robin’s nest. I felt so bad for her being tossed around by the wind and battered by the rain. I worried that the nest might be destroyed. I pitied her sitting there in the elements, just enduring it. What choice does a bird have, after all? She can’t grab an umbrella and pull on a jacket. She can’t go indoors and sit by the warm fire with a cup of tea to wait until the storm passes. No, she has to keep those eggs warm constantly, rain or shine.
I’m thrilled to have this life drama playing out so visibly in my yard, but it’s already made me realize something: Considering the hazards of their lives, every single baby bird that survives is a miracle. And that alone is a reason enough to love and respect birds.
Sunday update: After the storm on Friday I didn’t see the robin all day Saturday. I was worried that she’d abandoned the nest. Then today I glanced out the window and saw two birds in an altercation below the nest. I grabbed the binoculars and saw the robin and a female cowbird. Holy nest parasite, Batman! Maybe the cowbird was trying to lay an egg in the robin’s nest. (That’s what cowbirds do, by the way. It’s a way to get other birds to raise their babies for them.) As the cowbird flew off, the robin also attacked a chipmunk that was too close to her nest, stabbing at it with her bill. It took a few tries before the chipmunk got the message, but it worked. And a few minutes later, after judging it safe again, the robin flew up and sat on the nest! I’m so glad to see her there again, but see what I meant about the dangers of a bird’s life? Wow, I don’t know how they do it….